Legends of the American Desert: Sojourns in the Greater Southwest

Legends of the American Desert: Sojourns in the Greater Southwest

by Alex Shoumatoff
     
 

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For his brilliant reportage ranging from the forested recesses of the Amazon to the manicured lawns of Westchester County, New York, Alex Shoumatoff has won acclaim as one of our most perceptive guides to the oddest corners of the earth. Now, with this book, he takes us on a kaleidoscopic journey into the most complex and myth-laden region of the American landscape… See more details below

Overview

For his brilliant reportage ranging from the forested recesses of the Amazon to the manicured lawns of Westchester County, New York, Alex Shoumatoff has won acclaim as one of our most perceptive guides to the oddest corners of the earth. Now, with this book, he takes us on a kaleidoscopic journey into the most complex and myth-laden region of the American landscape and imagination.
    


In this amazing narrative, Shoumatoff records his quest to capture the vast multiplicity of the American Southwest. Beginning with his first trip after college across the desert in a station wagon, some twenty-five years ago, he surveys the boundless variety of people and experiences constituting the place--the idea--that has become America's symbol and last redoubt of the "Other.  From the Biosphere to the Mormons, from the deadly world of narcotraffickers to the secret lives of the covertly Jewish conversos, Shoumatoff explores the many alternative states of being who have staked their claim in the Southwest, making it a haven for every brand of refugee, fugitive, and utopian. And as he ventures across time and space, blending many genres--history, anthropology, natural science, to name only a few--he brings us a wealth of information on chile addiction, the diffusion of horses, the formation of the deserts and mountain ranges, the struggles of the Navajo to preserve their culture, and countless other aspects of this place we think we know.  
    


Full of profound sympathy and unique insights, Legends of the American Desert is a superbly rich epic of fact and reflection destined to take its place among such classics of regional portraiture as Ian Frazier's Great Plains. Alex Shoumatoff has created an exuberant celebration of a singularly American reality.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Shoumatoff (The World Is Burning) set himself to write a "sweeping hydrohistory" of the Southwest"the least American part of the United States"but as the project expanded so did his focus, and it then became his intention to write of his own relationship with the region in a book that would be "the next Ulysses." Though falling short of that, he has nonetheless produced a rich biography of the area. The book is the extended monologue of a scholar, adventurer and seeker enamored of and intimately knowledgeable about the indigenous cultures of the Southwest; the overlay of Latino culture; a study of the flora and fauna; the dominating need for water that has influenced custom and politics; the pollution of that water and the land by mining interestsall of which are played against the author's own encounters with the Southwest at different periods of his life. His explorations take him from Mexico, along the route of the conquistadors to California, Arizona and New Mexico to the settlements of the ancient Anasazi, Hopi, Navajo and Apaches, and builds friendships with their descendantsthe "billboard culture" of Anglo-Albuquerquewhose culture is idealized by alternative lifestylers. Though it falls short of Shoumatoff's stated ambitions, the book is an enchanting mlange of portraits of the extraordinary region and people of the Southwest. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Shoumatoff (The World Is Burning, LJ 8/90) has a great deal of fine writing to his credit, so it's a disappointment to find his latestand longesteffort to be such a scattered, uneven work. His work misleads with its title and confuses as Shoumatoff changes rolesfrom raconteur to scholar to "hip" journalist. The book is divided into three loosely themed parts, beginning with water (or the lack of it) in the Southwest and ending with the author's acknowledgment of his self-serving attachment to Native American causes. In between, the subjects Shoumatoff covers range from the travels of Cabeza de Vaca to contemporary society in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Shoumatoff provides an explanation for the book's lack of cohesion in his acknowledgments (he's worked with eight different editors and three publishers since beginning the work in 1985). This title is easily enjoyed in bits and pieces but not as a whole. Recommended for larger public libraries.Janet N. Ross, Sparks Branch Lib., Nev.
Kirkus Reviews
A masterfully written study of a region that is at once familiar and utterly foreign, by a journalist who has written for the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and other magazines. Little eludes the grasp of Shoumatoff (The World Is Burning, 1990, etc.) in this roughly chronological account of the Southwest's earliest peoples, its conquest and settlement by Spain, its later flood of Anglo immigrants and its most recent incarnation as a region of water-guzzling "urban oases." While the history has already been told (and Shoumatoff acknowledges as much), the author here puts it into a highly vibrant context as he crisscrosses the land, pursuing its ancient and more modern history. Shoumatoff travels to the remotest precincts of northern Mexico's Sierra Madre, whose spectacular silver-veined canyons are now ruled by violent drug lords who have routinely murdered scores of uncooperative Tarahumara Indians. He jourrneys to the ruins of one of the supposed Seven Cities of Cibola in New Mexico, where the Zuni people, who wiped out a Spanish expedition over four centuries ago, still reside. With the mother of Navajo and former marine Clayton Lonetree, he visits the young man incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth. Frequent asides happily intrude throught out this sprawling volume: In no specific order, short chapters are devoted to such arcane subjcts as the history of the chile pepper; the hidden Jews of New Mexico; a stretch of Route 66. But of greatest saliency in this remarkable work, and what stitches its widely spaced locales together, is the nearly atavistic struggle among the Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures for access to resources, a competition in which the latter hasappropriated most of what is valuable in the Southwest, especially water, permitting the wasteful, extravagant lifestyles of metropolises such as Phoenix and Albuquerque, and the exclusive enclave of Santa Fe. Shoumatoff's book is a definitive accomplishment—an entertainingly informative read that must rank among the preeminent works on this region.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307831811
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/17/2013
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
544
Sales rank:
875,534
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Alex Shoumatoff was born in Mt. Kisco, New York, in 1946. Formerly a staff writer for The New Yorker and now a contributing editor of Vanity Fair, he has been hailed for his profiles of personalities from Chico Mendes to Dian Fossey, and for his reporting from the farthest-flung reaches of the world, from Africa to Tibet. He is the author of nine previous books. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and four sons.

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